Separate the Summer Vacation Deals from the Duds

Save Up to 30 Percent at Hilton Hotels Worldwide Ready to commit to your summer vacation plans? Hilton has launched a Great Getaway sale, with advertised savings of up to 30 percent off hotel stays between May 28 and September 6. Good at 2,800 hotels around the world -- including Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels, Doubletree, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inns, Hampton Hotels, and Homewood Suites -- the offer often includes free breakfast for at least two people.

The discount varies a little by brand name: You'll get a full 30 percent off at Doubletree hotels; 25 percent at Hilton properties; and 20 percent at Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations, Hilton Garden Inn, Waldorf Astoria and Conrad. The deal is available at only select Embassy Suites.

Sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast. The discount applies to the Bed & Breakfast rate, which is always higher than the lowest regular rate and the regular advance-purchase rate. And the offer comes with some big restrictions: You have to book at least seven days ahead of your arrival and pay in full upfront, with no possible refund.

We shopped at some family-friendly spots to see how the special offer played out. At the Hilton Garden Inn in Williamsburg, Virginia, the special offer rate was $112 per night, down from the Bed & Breakfast rate of $141. Now comes the comparison pricing: That's 21 percent off the B&B rate but just 15 percent off the best regular rate of $129. Meanwhile, the regular advance-purchase, no-refund rate was $105. Think of the special offer as getting a free, cooked-to-order breakfast for each family member for just $7 in total. Rooms at the hotel, less than two miles from the city center, have fridges and microwaves, and the hotel has the obligatory pool.

At the Hilton Los Cabos resort in Mexico's Cabo San Lucas -- which has a beach, pool and kids' club -- the special offer shaves 25 percent off this property's B&B rate. The special offer rate for an ocean-view room with two queen beds was $194 per night, compared to $259 for the B&B rate, which includes two buffet breakfasts for the grown-ups each morning and free meals for kids 5 and under. When you figure in those free meals, the special offer probably has the edge over the regular advance-purchase rate of $179 per night -- but just barely, and only if your kids are very young.

Verdict: This is a great example of how marketing spin can make a just-okay offer sound much better than it is. And it's a good reminder of why you need to follow recession travel rule no. 1 and always do the math. Sometimes this special offer beats all the hotel's other rates -- and sometimes you can do better by choosing another rate from the menu. On the upside, this offer usually delivers a free breakfast, so long as you can also stomach the non-refundable risk.

Look for the Great Getaway rates when entering dates online, or mention the deal when calling 800/446-6677. You must book before July 15. Some brands have their own twists on the rules, such as a three-night minimum and no breakfast at Hilton Grands, or a two-night minimum night stay for Wednesday arrivals at Homewood Suites. As usual, other restrictions may apply.

WeJustGotBack.com is an award-winning family trip-planning site. It features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, vacation deals and more. Follow WeJustGotBack on Twitter and Facebook.

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